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The Broad Gets $650 Million For Psychiatric Research

The Broad Institute seems to have gone through a bit of rough funding patch some months ago, but things are looking up: they’ve received a gift of $650 million to do basic research in psychiatric disorders. Believe it, that’ll keep everyone busy, for sure.
I enjoyed Eric Lander’s characterization of much of the 1990s work on the genetic basis of mental illness as “pretty much completely useless”, and I don’t disagree one bit. His challenge, as he and the rest of the folks at the Broad well know, is to keep someone from being able to say that about them in the year 2034. CNS work is the ultimate black box, which makes a person nervous, but on the other hand, anything solid that gets discovered will be a real advance. Good luck to them.
You might also be interested to know where the Stanley Foundation, the benefactors here, came up with over half a billion dollars to donate to basic medical research (and more to come, apparently). You’d never guess: selling collectibles. Sports figurines. Small replicas of classic cars, trucks, and tractors. Miniature porcelain versions of popular dolls. Leather-bound sets of great (public domain) novels. Order now for the complete set of Presidential Coins – that sort of thing. It looks to be a lot more lucrative than discovering drugs (!)

49 comments on “The Broad Gets $650 Million For Psychiatric Research”

  1. Poetic Syntehsis says:

    The pleasures of reading a nice leather-bound book should not be underestimated.

  2. Anon says:

    I’ve gone to a few hospital fundraisers and that is one thing that always stuck out to me. Donations always came from finance, oil & gas, or businessmen that monopolized niche markets [that stay off everyone’s radar]. There were however several millionaire physicians and a few people that sold devices.
    Henry Schein’s son does pretty well for himself: http://www.iphoneogram.com/u/30387181

  3. Justin says:

    My last company received money from the Stanley Foundation for our schizophrenia research. They are good, generous people.

  4. Heard it on NPR says:

    They got their start selling commemorative coins honoring the moon landings in 1969. Their son came down with psychotic bipolar disorder as a teenager and was helped through Lithium treatment. Their hope is that all psych patients can be helped like they were.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Good characterizations of psychiatric disorders is a worthy goal. Here’s hoping they can collect as much of the set as possible.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think to say selling memorabilia is more profitable than drug discovery is probably a bit of hyperbole. What’s the yearly revenue for one of the larger pharma companies? Probably 10 billion+ ?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Good luck-650M may be the tip of what is needed. and you thought cancer was tough…..

  8. Psychiatry Researcher says:

    I would disagree that the studies of the genetic basis of mental illness are pretty much completely useless. There is a complicated gene plus environment interaction that makes interpretation difficult; however, genes do make a difference and highlight the relevant pathways that may be disrupted in psychiatry. Drug development for new targets in psychiatry has a horrible track record, in part because genetics has not been used to inform development of new compounds. The gift to the Broad will help speed the way toward personalized medicine, and the hope is that progress can be made on subsets of the population rather than the blockbuster 1 pill for everyone strategy.

  9. MoBio says:

    @8
    You (and others) may wish to read the press release describing what they hope to accomplish. I see not much about ‘personalized medicine’ as it is usually described.
    It appears to represent pretty much what obvious to anyone with a passing knowledge of what is going on right now along with a dash of new-ish technologies (e.g. CRISPR-mediated gene editing).
    They also mention the ability to screen ‘100’s of thousands of molecules’…
    (https://www.broadinstitute.org/files/news/media-kit/2014/PressReleaseStanley.pdf)

  10. newnickname says:

    The Stanley family business (MBI) company website says, “We are a dynamic and fast-paced company, developing and marketing high-quality products at a rate of over 500 new products every year. Our sophisticated marketing strategies, breadth of product categories and commitment to excellence have brought our products into the homes of millions of customers in over 125 countries.”
    That sounds like a drug company to me!
    I’m sure that many of the 500 new products every year are “me-too” products: Merck Bobble-head, Pfizer Bobble-head, Vertex Bobble-head …
    When I think of Broad and psych, I think mostly of Scolnick. Isn’t he primarily a neuro guy? Maybe they’ll make a Scolnick Bobble-head.
    Can’t discriminate: Lerner Bobble-head, Schreiber Bobble-head … the whole menagerie!

  11. Boo says:

    My mom was a severe hoarder (seriously, in the clinical sense of the term). She probably purchased enough junk from MBI over the years that one might argue that she should get a tax deduction for the Stanley Foundation’s gift.

  12. PorkPieHat says:

    OMG! That’s more than they got to establish the Broad (I recall it was some $300M from Eli Broad).
    My first thought was, with a bit of focus, that money could be used to drive multiple shots in the clinic, at least at Phase IIb level. And with any luck, one that hits could provide patients with relief and the Broad with a revenue stream for a few years. But, on second thought, how much you wanna bet that money will be pissed away on fiefdoms and empires and Eric Lander and his cronies.

  13. ExMerckie says:

    What a waste of money. Nothing useful has come out of the Broad, and nothing ever will. This money should have been used to seed new and mid level careers of promising young academics.

  14. Nony says:

    Cumulatively, Stanley is now just ahead of Eli- $825M to $800M. At least he didn’t ask them to change the name of the place, like happened with Burnham.

  15. Anonymous says:

    This could be promising…
    At one point the Stanley Center was somewhat “firewalled” off from the rest of the Broad regarding funding and leadership/politics. IMHO they benefited greatly from this arrangement and from having a leader who has actually been through the process of developing a drug. They’re specifically tasked with developing drug which has minimized the resources spent establishing fiefdoms and appeasing egos.

  16. matt says:

    @newnickname #10 and Derek Lowe: when do we get a Derek Lowe bobble-head? And what piece of lab equipment would you use to represent drug development pictorially? A vial is too generic…hmm, gotta be careful or people will think it’s a Walter White bobblehead with hair on top.

  17. Magrinho says:

    Academic bobble heads don’t work. Their heads are too big and they tip over

  18. Anonymous says:

    @6, try $50-60 billion in revenue for a few big pharmas. $10+ billion is PROFIT for a few of them!

  19. Anonymous says:

    ExMerckie – Nothing useful has come out of Merck, and nothing ever will.
    Hey look! I can make dumb, ignorant statements on the internet too! Ok, back to work on our useless crispr project… I hope somebody uses this someday!

  20. money says:

    They could give $1M to 650 different young academics.

  21. RegularReader says:

    Talk about poor timing…the essentially defunct Neurosciences Institute in San Diego would probably have welcomed even one-tenth of that donation!
    @19: Perhaps ExMerckie is voicing concern, albeit inelegantly, about a flawed notion held by Big Pharma that proximity to the Boston intelligentsia will be their common saving grace. Over the past decade, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Merck, Sanofi-Aventis, and others have shuttered historically productive research centers (with concomitant layoffs) while allocating ever-more resources to their Boston sites. Unfortunately, moving to fancy ZIP codes and hiring fancy pedigrees may not be enough to fix deeply entrenched dysfunction within those organizations.

  22. anon-ymous(e) says:

    17. Magrinho :
    Toooooooo funny !!! I almost peed myself. Thanks for the levity.

  23. TheBroadDoesn'tDoNeuroscienceResearch says:

    @RegularReader: Agreed.
    The Broad is full of talented researchers who DON’T WORK IN THE FIELD. The Zhang lab is the exception here, but do they really need $650 million?
    A sad example of much needed funding for basic research being funneled to a privileged few.

  24. anonymous says:

    @23. TheBroadDoesn’tDoNeuroscienceResearch:
    The Broad DOES IT ALL ! Just ask ’em !

  25. Nony says:

    Um what? The director of the Stanley Center was the director of NIMH for five years, does he “not work in the field”? The previous director was one of the most successful heads of R&D Merck ever had- are you going to call him one of those academics who doesn’t know what it really takes to develop a drug?

  26. ExMerckie says:

    “ExMerckie – Nothing useful has come out of Merck, and nothing ever will.
    Hey look! I can make dumb, ignorant statements on the internet too! Ok, back to work on our useless crispr project… I hope somebody uses this someday!”
    So what has come out of Broad that has been useful? Merck did not get the funding.
    Nothing useful came out of Merck? Where do you live? In a vaccum like the Borad Institute? Ever heard of Zocor, Vioxx, Fosomax, Singulair, Januvia, Gardasil, and the list goes on….

  27. ExMerckie says:

    #21 – my concern is not not the (certainly flawed) colocation of big pharma in Boston with the hope that new scientific ideas will incubate. The issue that I see is that institutes such as Broad are very incestuous, and the leaders are building a cult like following rather than practicing true science. This leads to mediocrity. For proof, see the current Harvard Chemistry department. Schreiber hired people like Verdine and Shair, whose only skill was kissing his ass, and the department went rapidly downhill. ICCB hired only minds like the leaders, and where is that now? The Broad is only a bloated version of that. What real accomplishments does Broad have other than adding new -omics vocabulary? Any mechanisms discovered there in Ph2? Any Nobel prizes won by staff there?
    The Stanley Foundation money would have been much more effective if spread out amongst many researchers. Few post-doc funding here, $2-3M for a younf faculty member to get started, a few $10M awards for med-level faculty with exciting programs etc. All of this spread all over the world.

  28. Garrett Wollman says:

    @16: I’m pretty sure there already *is* a Derek Lowe bobblehead. Probably two: one in a Red Sox uniform and one in a Dodger uniform.

  29. PharmaHeretic says:

    A spoof on corporatese by “Weird Al” Yankovic.
    —-
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyV_UG60dD4

  30. Sisyphus says:

    There they go again – those damned rich people. We should have taxed the hell out of them before they had a chance to donate to a worthy cause.

  31. Jon says:

    … which makes a fellow nervous. Snort.
    J.

  32. Anonymous says:

    ExMerckie – ever hear of sarcasm? .
    Re: hiring young academics.
    With this money, the Broad WILL hire more young academics including PIs, PhD researchers not titled “postdoc”, technicians, staff, etc. and yes, even more postdocs, physician scientists, and grad students.
    Even before this donation, they have a lot of room to fill in there new labs – do you think they will not expand in a big way? They are actively recruiting some of the best talent in the world from academia and industry.
    Re: “useful” research
    The Broad continually publishes some of the highest impact research in the field. Yes, some may be controversial/criticized but that’s exactly what you deal with when you are working on the cutting-edge of science. Take a look at their publication list.
    You also define success in a very industry-biased way. Would you say we don’t need more basic research in psychiatric disease? Should it all go to industry? Would it not help for academic researchers to uncover/de-risk more therapeutic hypotheses for industry? This money was earmarked to the Broad specifically because we don’t have enough basic knowledge to treat neurological orders effectively.
    Recall that much of the research on targeting kinases in the 70’s and 80’s were decried as “useless” by those in drug discovery because no one thought they could be targeted selectively. Yet, today many in industry are quick dismiss much of today’s basic research as “useless” or “money wasted” (too be sure, some of it is). But the nature of basic research is that it is not well understood what will be useful. Should we just pump money into industry and keep banging our heads against the wall?
    We could also give $1M to 650 new PIs (most of whom would be working on rather derivative ideas), or we can place a large bet on several big projects that could be transformative. High-risk/high-reward research is what the Broad specializes in, not “safe science”. This takes loads of money – $650 may only be enough just to get started.

  33. Anonymous says:

    haha… I meant to say $650 million in my last sentence. $650 will get you started alright… with a few round-bottom flasks!

  34. ExMerckie says:

    #33 – there is sarcasm, and there is stupidity (such as comment #19 that you posted)
    The new PI’s that will be hired from the Stanley foundation funds will be acolytes of the big wigs currently at Broad. There is great precedent for this (just look at the what has happened at the previous places where these big wigs used to be). The acolytes are typically asskissers, not good scientists. High impact publications have no meaning as these guy just cite each other and propagate their BS. True milestones are when an external party is willing to invest big $ in your discovery AND there is general scientific approval to move forward.
    Basic research is the lifeblood of humanity. This is something that I stand by. However, these new large institutes are nothing but a waste of money as not even a hint of innovation has come through these. After all the investment in Broad, ICCB etc, surely SOMETHING should have come through by now?Remember Schreibers million compound library that was supposed to cure humanity of all diseases? Remember all the issues with reproducibility from the sloppy science that was done? Most of the risky stuff is done by renegades, not the Landers and Schreibers who just like to preen in the limelight and build empires.

  35. ExMerckie says:

    #33 – I do not in any way diss academic research. There should be more, and this can be done if funds are used wisely.
    So, why don’t you list all the key breakthroughs that Broad has made to date? Lets leave out micromolar inhibitors of a useless mechanism that made rats dance, shall we? I would say that any methodology that has received attention from the external chemistry community, mechanisms discovered that have resulted in external validation (pharma or otherwise) in animal models through their own programs. High risk/high reward research must result in some of these things, right?

  36. Nick K says:

    “The Broad Gets $650 Million For Psychiatric Research”. That seems an awful lot of money for one woman.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Ugh… I don’t think we disagree on a lot in principle. What I have an issue with, “ExMerckie” is the sweeping generalizations (“useless”, “not even a hint of innovation”, etc) that you and others make about the Broad, Schreiber, Lander, et al. That is utterly ridiculous. Your passionate dislike for these scientists biases any objective judgement you would make about their science.
    Again, you ask me to quantify what breakthroughs (narrowly defined by you) have come from the Broad, but I don’t suspect you would be satisfied with any. CRISPR and contributions to nextgen sequencing have revolutionized the field. Hundreds of new therapeutic hypotheses have been generated in cancer, infectious disease, schizophrenia among many other diseases. If even one of them is validated in the clinic, that is money well spent.

  38. Zack says:

    Kudos to the Stanleys. So what if they gave 650 million to a single institution; that’s their prerogative. If this was NIH money, then I would have an issue. I applaud philanthropists who do this rather than spending it on another mansion or yacht. I hope more will follow suit.

  39. ExMerckie says:

    #37 -All is takes to debunk “sweeping generalizations” is one concrete example. Can you provide one? All I am asking for is are some results validated by an impartial party. Think about all the chemists who have contributed heavily to process/medicinal chemistry (Suzuki, Hartwig to name a couple). Or biologists who have discovered mechanisms that have been investigated further somewhere else. Is CRISPR used widely by industry (do you have a source)?
    Hypothesis are cheap. Heck, I can pull plenty out of you know where. Publications in prestigious journals is an equally rigged game. The only measure of success is utility by other outside of that institute or sub(subfield).
    P.S. You make equally “sweeping generalizations” on how successful these BS efforts are!

  40. Anonymous says:

    @ Anonymous#32
    “With this money, the Broad WILL hire more young academics including PIs, PhD researchers not titled “postdoc”, technicians, staff, etc. and yes, even more postdocs, physician scientists, and grad students.”
    I’m not sure you are particularly knowledgeable about the new Broad model. The Broad has significantly reduced its scientific staff in the last year through layoffs; those positions will be filled with low cost students and post-docs (with no continuity, drug discovery experience or jobs when they graduate).
    The Broad has a lot of self-styled “visionary” leadership types right now, but scientific progress is often slow, incremental and hard-won. White papers and jargon do not move programs forward and it’s unclear that there are enough people willing and able to do the actual work required.

  41. ExMerckie says:

    #40 (I did not post this reply)
    This is EXACTLY my point about the Scriebers and Landers of the world. All talk, no execution.

  42. @ExMerckie says:

    It’s pretty gutsy of you to question the quality and practical impact of research from certain prestigious institutions. Not that I’m disagreeing with you. I’ve met my share of those who have continued to ride on the coattails of their famous PI’s even 5 to 10 years after graduation!
    Whether it be a “non-for-profit” organization or garage start-up, it amazes me how expertly crafted chicanery can attract vast amounts of patronage. Cases in point: GSK and Sirtis, BMS and DuPont-Merck Pharma, etc.

  43. Anonymous says:

    I think perhaps that it can be difficult for individuals who have only academic experience to understand the true definition of the word “impact” in the field of drug discovery. This is not a knock against these individuals, but rather an observation. For all of us in industry, think back to your graduate and postdocs years and try to remember what you thought was important and impactful. My guess is that it is very different than now.
    The impact of Suzuki and C-N bond forming reactions is huge for medicinal and process chemistry; however, one must remember as incredibly important as med and process chemistry is in drug discovery/development, there are so many additional fields that are involved from Target Validation to Commercialization of an approved drug. I think it’s still hard to fathom what true “impact” is, even for people with years of experience in biotech/pharma companies.

  44. RAM says:

    @43. I would not be surprised to see (academic) physicians, who administer effective drugs to their patients in the clinic (in a trial or as approved therapy), argue that “all of us in industry will find it difficult to understand the true definition of the word impact”. Well at least as long as “impact” refers to lives and not stock price.

  45. ExMerckie says:

    Still waiting for that one impactful discovery from Broad…..

  46. MoMo says:

    Ye Gods! Another one! This isn’t about SS bobble-heads or the ROI at Broad! We track billionaire donators in neuroresearch, and it’s the 4th one this year. Allen, Kravitz, Picower minus one, are operating, now these honorable chotchke peddlers. You do not know what these people are capable of, as I have witnessed it at Polo and society and cultures everywhere may disappear….forever. All controlled by retailers.
    Sure, neural diseases may be the focus now, alleviating human suffering, but the ultimate goal is chemical control of all human behavior, all in the hands of these neuro/preneurs.
    It’s too late to stop it. The commemorative coins are in the mail, and soon to be at the Broad.
    God help us.

  47. Commenter says:

    The assignees for the first broad patents related to the commercialization of CRISPR technology are the Univ. of California and Univ. of Vienna, not the Broad. They are now on the bandwagon, as is everyone else. Ex-merckie, this technology is already widely used for genetic manipulation in the lab, the generation of highly specific animal models and has resulted in the formation of several companies. Would you also say something like RNAi (discovered in academic labs) has had no impact? Go over to the target validation and biology groups in your company, tell them they can’t use tools like this and see how they respond. Sometimes it amazes me how little this cohort understands the drug discovery community outside of Suzuki couplings and C-N bond formation chemistry.

  48. Anonymous says:

    This is such a depressing article more so then normal. What a waste.

  49. PaulKevinAnderson says:

    “Progress” in a fraudulent industry? (psychopharmacology and psychiatry are not functionally divisible at this point.) The war on the deemed mentally ill through psychiatry and more specifically through pharmacology promises proto-personalized abuse, not personalized solutions. Mental illness is amenable to real changes in social environment, sensory disorder correction (eyeglasses et al) a good nights sleep, exposure to nature, all things that require neither psychiatrists nor pharmaceutical giants (public or private.) The “effective” biomarkers for scientific fraud were discovered by the HR people at the august engines of research for profit (including public research for profit)long before sequencing was available. Feeding people drugs from the psychopharma pipleline is cruel, planning to do so is cruel, making money from such is criminal.

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